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The Rooks return to Whidbey

Patricia Schussler runs to meet her daughter, Lt. Brigitte Fox, who returned with VAQ-137 Wednesday following an eight-month deployment.  - Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times
Patricia Schussler runs to meet her daughter, Lt. Brigitte Fox, who returned with VAQ-137 Wednesday following an eight-month deployment.
— image credit: Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times

There were no tricks but plenty of treats Wednesday as the Rooks of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137 returned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island after an eight-month deployment on the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

Cheers erupted from the small crowd gathered at Hangar 8 as the squadron was spotted on its approach for a diamond formation fly-over.

This was not the first separation for most of the families represented, perhaps with the exception of Patricia and Darwin Schussler of San Diego, Calif., who were on NAS Whidbey to welcome their daughter, Lt. Brigitte Fox, back from her first deployment.

“It has given us a deep appreciation for what all military families go through,” said Patricia, who admitted to being worried the whole time Fox was gone.

“I think it was because of where she was,” she said. (The Rooks were deployed to the Arabian Gulf for Maritime Security Operations and to the North Arabian Sea to provide support for coalition forces in Afghanistan.)

There were a few other firsts at the homecoming. Rick Quinn came down from Victoria to welcome his nephew, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Strauss. It was Quinn’s first visit to NAS Whidbey and his first homecoming.

“This is a big deal for me,” he said, pausing to watch as the Rooks’ jets flew past overhead. “That gives me the goosebumps! That’s really something.”

Molly Kunzman was looking forward to introducing her husband, Lt. Derek Kunzman, to his son, Grant, just seven-and-a-half weeks old.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Derek as a dad and see him mold into this new role,” she said. Having her husband gone for most of her pregnancy wasn’t too bad, she said.

“It didn’t get hard until (the baby) was here. I really needed that emotional support,” Molly said. “But then, I knew it was only going to be another seven weeks until he was home, so I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

New dad Derek couldn’t stop grinning as he looked at his son in person.

“I love him, he’s awesome,” he said.

Spouses and girlfriends left behind for the past eight months said they were hoping for a return to normalcy.

“It’s the little things, like cooking dinner together, having someone to talk to at the end of the day,” said Jamie Riggs of what she missed most while her boyfriend, Strauss, was gone. There are also some things she won’t miss now that he’s home.

“It’ll be nice not having to talk in code,” she laughed.

“I’m looking forward to having some family time and just being home together,” said Desiree Elrod, who was there to greet her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Johnathan Elrod, along with the couple’s daughter, Elsa, 15 months.  “He left a baby and is coming home to a toddler.”

Silvia Connor, who has been married to Lt. Cmdr. Craig Connor for two years, said it takes some getting used to when it comes to missing anniversaries, birthdays and other special days. She was looking forward to one of their favorite activities.

“We’ll probably go to dinner and watch a movie,” she said. “It’s something we do that’s just really comfortable.”

This was the last deployment for VAQ-137 as a Prowler squadron. The group will now begin its transition to the EA-18G Growler. The squadron logged 176 combat sorties and more than 1,100 combat hours during this deployment.

It is the end of an era for the USS Enterprise, the nation’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which will be retired Dec. 1

The rest of the squadron and support personnel were scheduled to return to NAS Whidbey Thursday.

 

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